Had Cosmopolis worked, it probably would have turned out as something between Mary Harron’s American Psycho and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. It is both a Ulyssean tale of one man’s journey from the affluence and decadence of his adulthood back to the innocence of his childhood, and a cautionary tale of a business prodigy so oversaturated by wealth that he has become numb to the world and seeks stimulation through depravity and ugliness. Since it doesn’t work, it is two hours of Robert Pattinson sitting in a limousine with a rear-projection of New York outside, recording an audiobook of the Don DeLillo novel upon which the film is based.
The uninspired screenplay aside, Robert Pattinson’s performance is what ultimately drags Cosmopolis down, though it should be noted that this is not because he is a bad actor, or even that he delivers an unconvincing performance. Eric Packer shines through in Pattinson’s portrayal: his impenetrable poker face is a testament to his meteoric rise in the business world, and his steady, metronomic manner of speaking hints at an underlying trauma of jadedness and disillusionment. Unfortunately, while Pattinson was putting this performance together he may have overestimated the appeal of watching a man talk about modern economics with a poker face, in monotone, for two hours. It’s a convincing performance, it’s just not a very engaging one.
I’ve spoken to people who have both read the book and seen the film, and they expressed surprise at how faithful the film is to the original text: faithful, in this case, meaning that the dialogue was lifted almost word-for-word from the novel. The characters in Cosmopolis do not talk to one another like actual human beings. Rather, the scenes play out like the “Questions Only” round of Whose Line Is It Anyway, with the characters often seeming to deliberately avoid responding to what the other has said, instead merely waiting for their own turn to deliver a pearl of nihilistic wisdom. When characters seem disinterested in hearing what the other has to say, this in turn gives the audience the impression that the conversation itself isn’t worth investing in. At one point, Packer was having an “emotional” (poker faces on all sides) conversation with his estranged wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), and I realised with alarm that for the past two minutes I had been watching two extras in the background, hoping in vain that they would do or say something interesting.
Packer’s limousine acts as a kind of mobile monologuing booth, with various characters popping in to say hello and wax poetical about their own personal views on capitalism and currency. The limousine is a nice set, comprising some of the more futuristic elements of the film in big, glowing panels that fold out from minibars and armrests and show bar graphs that are presumably being beamed in from the internet. Any set tends to lose its charm, however, once you’ve been watching people sit around in it and talk for an hour or so. Without having a copy of Cosmopolis to hand, I’d guess that around 60% of it takes place in the limousine, but even when the “action” moves temporarily to sandwich bars, hotels, and hairdressers, the spectre of the limousine haunts the film in such a way that there are no real breaths of fresh air.
I don’t know whether this says more about me than it does about Cosmopolis (I really hope not), but one of the best highlights came during Eric Packer’s daily medical examination in his limo, when he manages to hold a conversation with someone whilst having his prostate examined. At least with a couple of fingers up his bum, Packer’s expression changes slightly. Slightly. Having said that, I could have done without the prostate-checking sound effects. One word: squelch.
Despite the above negativity, this is by no means a terrible film. As I mentioned at the start, Cosmopolis had a lot of potential and lives up to some of it. In places the dialogue is amusing, and the scenes of rioters assaulting Packer’s limousine are well-executed, as are the ongoing scenes of protesters using rats as a symbol of their defiance, a motif which references the film’s opening quote: “And a rat became the unit of currency.” The film’s ending is better than its beginning, with Packer finally getting out of the limousine to engage in a battle of wits and firearms with Paul Giamatti, who turns in a memorable and incredibly welcome performance in the last half-hour.
Best of all, Eric Packer’s bodyguard is played by none other than Kevin Durand! Durand is a fantastic actor who constantly crops up in films and leaves me spending a happy ten minutes recalling all the times he’s guest-starred in TV shows that I like. He played Joshua in Dark Angel, one of the Go’auld in Stargate: SG-1, and a guy who refuses to pay his parking tickets in Dead Like Me. His is one of the best performances in Cosmopolis; moreover, the character of Torval is an impressively dedicated bodyguard, who walks alongside Packer’s limousine all the way across town and occasionally elbow-drops rioters who gets too close.
So, in summary, I didn’t like Cosmopolis much, but it does have a certain appeal and I’d recommend seeing it if only for its uniqueness. You should also watch it because it has Kevin Durand kicking ass, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Cosmopolis is out in UK cinemas from Friday 15th June.
You can also see Kevin Durand in Resident Evil: Retribution later this year, and in horror movie Dark Was The Night, which is currently set for a 2013 release.